ELIZABETH BACON CUSTER AND THE MAKING OF A MYTH by Shirley A. Leckie

ELIZABETH BACON CUSTER AND THE MAKING OF A MYTH

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Leckie (History/University of Central Florida) deftly discerns Elizabeth Custer's central role in the making of the Custer legend, thus simultaneously celebrating a strong woman and deflating a frontier hero. When George Armstrong Custer was killed in 1876 during the battle of Little Bighorn, his wife, Elizabeth, was only in her mid- 30s. Childless, she inherited a mass of debts--Custer was a notorious gambler--and the charge of securing her husband's reputation. Custer, the Union's daring boy general, had throughout his short life inspired either great affection or visceral dislike among his fellow soldiers. His death on the battlefield provided an opportunity for both his admirers and his detractors to define his place in history. To his critics, the battle, in which 210 of Custer's men lost their lives, was typical of the man's ambition and vanity--he would do anything to advance himself. In letters to the secretary of war, Custer's detractors accused the general of disobeying orders and indulging in reckless behavior--but they soon came up against Elizabeth, who, devotedly enduring all the privations of army life on the frontier, had accompanied her husband to Texas and out to the West. Widely respected and admired, she would soon silence the critics as she devoted the rest of her long life--she died in 1933--to creating and maintaining the legend of her beloved ``Autie,'' whom she eloquently extolled in well- received memoirs and lectures. Leckie records all the relevant biographical and historical events: the couple's courtship in Michigan; Custer's Civil War exploits; his postwar campaigns; the pair's married life, not always idyllic (Custer was a flirt as well as a gambler); and changing contemporary attitudes to the general's once heroic status. An admirably researched, well-wrought portrait of a talented woman who attained literary fame, financial independence, and--by shaping her husband's image and keeping his name alive--her ``heart's desire.''

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8061-2501-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993




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